A beer and fags up headline. It was like a budget headline from years ago, before the days of the indexation of excises — the Brisbane Courier Mail warned this morning “Tax reforms target fatty foods, smokers and drinkers”. Renee Viellaris has Treasury Secretary Ken Henry targeting fatty foods, smokers and alcohol drinkers — but thankfully for smokers, drinkers and fast food eaters, closer examination reveals that the Federal Government’s taxation review has not reached any such conclusion. What we actually have is a submission to the review by a group of killjoys and do gooders developing a National Preventative Health Strategy.

The equivalent of the 2004 tsunami every six months. This week the United Nations Security Council in New York took time out to listen to Mr António Guterres deliver his annual report as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Whilst the UNHCR is still compiling the latest statistics, Mr Guterres estimated “that the total number of refugees under the mandate of my Office currently exceeds 11 million.” This figure did not include the 4.6 million Palestinians for whom another UN agency has responsibility.

The refugee boss split the refugee problem into two sections with the first extending from South and Southwest Asia, through the Middle East to Sudan and Chad, and into the Horn of Africa. “From Peshawar to Kandahar, from Mosul to Gaza, and from El Geneina to Mogadishu, we are confronted,” the Security Council was told, “with a series of distinct crises, each with its own historical roots. Even so, these conflicts are now increasingly interrelated and together have major implications for global peace and security, drawing the serious attention of the international community.”

With the diplomacy that perhaps should be expected from an international diplomat, Mr Guterres avoided mentioning what actually makes the conflicts “interrelated.” Religion, it appears, and especially the word ‘Muslim’, is to be avoided.

Beyond this first group of inter-related conflicts, Mr Guterres referred to others that have been multiplying and deepening around the world which generally lacked international attention, largely because their impact was local or at best regional. “They are not perceived as having implications for global security,” he said. “The Central African Republic is a typical example. Although it is on the agenda of the Security Council, few are aware that some 100,000 refugees have been forced to flee to Chad and Cameroon, and that more than 200,000 of its citizens are internally displaced, in conditions of grave deprivation.”

His report to the Security Council continued:

We might discuss many other crises, but I will focus on one particular situation because of its importance to the work of both the Security Council and my office — the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attention of the media and the international community has recently been concentrated on North Kivu.

To echo my earlier remarks, there is no humanitarian solution to that conflict. The solution must be political and involve the DRC, Rwanda, other regional actors and the international community as a whole. The current tragedy in North Kivu has a complex historical heritage coming from the colonial rule and exacerbated more recently by the Rwanda genocide and two Congolese civil wars. The solution must also address the FDLR presence in the area, the persistence of which threatens to undermine any peace agreement. And peace will be short-lived if the underlying problems of access to land, property, citizenship, inter-ethnic relations and the representation of minorities are not resolved.

But the DRC is not just North Kivu. We have recently witnessed some significant population displacements in Ituri and Province Orientale. Serious human rights violations persist in South Kivu, targeted predominantly at women and girls. Every six months, the number of people who die unnecessarily in the country as a result of armed conflict and material deprivation is equivalent to the number of people killed by the 2004 Asian tsunami. Only the Security Council has the legitimacy to lead the efforts of the international community to bring this wholly unacceptable situation to an end. UNHCR is prepared to play its part within its limited role and capacities.

Bank nationalisation continues to catch on. The international financial crisis keeps creeping on. Overnight, the Bank of England cut its base rate to 1.5%, which is the lowest since the bank was founded in 1694. Meanwhile, in Germany, the government bailed out the country’s second largest bank, Commerzbank, with €10 billion in fresh capital from the German banking sector stabilisation fund SoFFin. The federal government ends up with a stake of 25% plus one share.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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